ILO: Let Us Act Now to End Child Labour


Like millions of children in East Africa, Molly Namirembem, a former child labourer, and now activist from Uganda, worked in Agriculture from a tender age. Molly was 11 years old when she started...

Friday June 11 2021

Like millions of children in East Africa, Molly Namirembem, a former child labourer, and now activist from Uganda, worked in Agriculture from a tender age. Molly was 11 years old when she started working on a tea plantation in her home country.  She recalls gruesome working conditions and hours, which left her developing body and mind under strain.

An orphan, Molly had scant prospects for a healthy livelihood, never mind a decent education, and was forced to work for her livelihood.  Fortunately, she escaped child labour and is now one of the continent’s leading former child labour activists.

Not all children trapped in child labour are as lucky as Molly. The World Day Against Child Labour, on 12 June, intended to serve as a catalyst for the growing worldwide movement Against child labour, reflected in the huge number of ratifications of  ILO Convention No. 182  on the Worst Forms of Child Labour and ILO Convention No. 138 on the Minimum Age for employment.

Child labour continues to be is a global issue that prevents children from fulfilling their potentials. Millions of girls and boys are prevented from healthy childhoods and from living out their dreams due to exploitation through child labour. 

According to a recently launched report by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and UNICE, Child Labour: Global estimates 2020, trends and the road forward, “the number of children in child labour has risen to 160 million worldwide – an increase of 8.4 million children in the last four years – with millions more at risk due to the impacts of COVID-19.”

“The new estimates are a wake-up call. We cannot stand by while a new generation of children is put at risk,” said ILO Director-General Guy Ryder. “Inclusive social protection allows families to keep their children in school even in the face of economic hardship. Increased investment in rural development and decent work in agriculture is essential. We are at a pivotal moment and much depends on how we respond. This is a time for renewed commitment and energy, to turn the corner and break the cycle of poverty and child labour.”

Of these children, more than half are exposed to the worst forms of child labour such as work in hazardous environments, slavery, or other forms of forced labour, illicit activities such as drug trafficking and prostitution, as well as involvement in armed conflict.

Significant strides have been made towards the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Target 8.7, which calls on all countries to “secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour … and by 2025, end child labour in all its forms.”

It is against this backdrop that the ILO launched the first World Day Against Child Labour  in 2002 as a way to highlight the plight of these children.

This particular day gathers support of individual governments and that of the ILO social partners, civil society and others, including schools, youth and women's groups as well as the media, in the campaign against child labour.

Child Labour in Tanzania

Tanzania has made advancement in efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labour from a policy level. The Tanzanian government has assigned specialized coordinating bodies in both the Mainland and Zanzibar to address child labour issues. These bodies include: the National Anti-Trafficking Committee (ATC) and National Anti-Trafficking Secretariat (ATS), The National Education Task Force on Child Labour, The  Zanzibar Child Labour Steering Committee and the National Protection Steering Committee.

However, child labour remains a challenge. According to the ILO’s report Child Labour and the Youth Decent Work Deficit in Tanzania, child labour in Tanzania continues to affect an estimated 4.2 million children aged 5–17 years, about 29 percent of this age group, a share that has changed little over the last decade. These numbers indicate clearly that the battle against child labour is far from finished in the country, and that efforts need to be intensified and accelerated so that the goal of child labour elimination is reached in the nearest possible future.

Around one in four children aged 5–13 years (25 percent), almost 2.8 million in absolute terms, are in child labour. The Geita and the Manyara regions stand out as having the highest level of child labour (respectively 56 percent and 53 percent). At the other end of the spectrum lie the Mbeya and Njombe regions, both with 7 percent of children involved in child labour, and the Dar es Salaam region, where child labour incidence is just 1 percent.

The vast majority of children in child labour are found in family-based agriculture. Nearly 95 per cent of children in child labour are in the agricultural sector and nearly 93 percent in unremunerated family work. Children in child labour aged 5–13 years log very long hours, increasing their exposure to workplace hazards and limiting their time for study and leisure. Weekly working hours average 20 hours for the 5–13 age group as a whole, rising to 25 hours for children over the age of 11 years.

Addressing child labour in tobacco growing communities in Tabora, Tanzania

The ILO, in collaboration with the government of Tanzania have pledged to address child labour in tobacco producing region of Tabora. Efforts to end child in Tabora are championed by the Regional Commissioner (RC) who is the patron of child protection activities in the region. His office with the support of the ILO through the project entitled “Addressing Decent Work Deficits in the Tobacco Sector”, among other things, child labour stakeholders have funded radio based learning programs called Tabora Darasa Plus. These programmes aired classroom like sessions for pupils who are at home due to COVID-19 – availing lessons from those in preschool to form four throughout the week. The programs are aired through community radios and have reached approximately 50-60% of students in the region during this period when schools are closed. Thus, aiding children continue learning during the pandemic.

Working children in tobacco growing perform many different activities depending on a production cycle that lasts approximately nine months from August/ September to May/June in Tanzania.

While many children participate in most activities such as raising and transplanting, weeding and applying fertilizer, there are other tasks that are largely undertaken by older children of 15 years old or more. These include field preparation and stamping, construction of sheds and barns, cutting of trees for firewood, packaging, curing and spraying.

Additional economic shocks and school closures caused by COVID-19 mean that children already in child labour may be working longer hours or under worsening conditions, while many more may be forced into the worst forms of child labour due to job and income losses among vulnerable families.

While children work in open tobacco fields, they have to endure intense heat from sunlight. Children also spend many hours stringing and grading tobacco in unsanitary makeshift sheds with little ventilation.

Children work without protective gear such as special clothes, gloves and respiratory masks when handling fertilizers, pesticides and tobacco leaves. The bulk of work is undertaken manually using tools such as hoes, shovels, machetes, axes, knives and watering cans, which is tiring and may cause injury to children.

Ending the vice

Tanzania was one of the first countries in the world to implement a nationally-owned Time Bound Programme to eliminate the Worst Forms of Child Labour. The first Time Bound Programme was launched in Mainland Tanzania in 2001 and a revised National Action Plan on the Elimination of Worst Forms of Child Labour was released in 2009. A new National Strategy on Elimination of Child labour (2018-2022) has been launched to guide national efforts against child labour over the next four years. The Strategy is framed within an overall vision of a Tanzania in which children live free from child labour and its worst forms while enjoying their rights in a safe environment. The National Strategy identifies seven strategies to eliminate child labour: Enhancing compliance with labour standards; Strengthening multi-sectoral coordination and collaboration; Strengthening household income by empowering men, women and child headed households; Integrating comprehensive social protection systems; Improving access to alternative forms of education to all vulnerable children; Institutionalized mechanisms on rehabilitation and social integration for children withdrawn from child labour and its worst forms; and Enhancing public awareness on impact of child labour and its worst forms. In the discussion that follows, some of these strategies will be articulated further.

The vision of Tanzanian children free from child labour is also supported by the National Costed Plan of Action for Most Vulnerable Children, which contains number of intervention strategies designed to positively impact the lives and welfare of the country’s most vulnerable children.

According to the ILO’s National Programme Coordinator, Maridadi Phanuel, ”the United Republic of Tanzania has made commendable efforts to address child labour. It has ratified the ILO’s two fundamental Conventions – Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (No. 138) and Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182). Much effort has been made to strengthen the legal and policy framework to address child labour”.

Phanuel submits that in 2004 Tanzania enacted the Employment and Labour Relations Act, now Cap. 366 R.E. 2019 (ELRA) to, inter alia, make provisions for core labour rights and establish basic employment standards. ELRA, which is in force in mainland Tanzania, prohibits child labour and forced labour.”

Phanuel further elucidates that the Government of Tanzania has also developed a series of plans of action to address child labour. “These include: the 2009 National Action Plan for the Elimination of Child Labour (which was adopted to prevent and respond to the worst forms of child labour), the National Plan of Action for the Prevention and Eradication of Violence against Women and Children 2001-2015, the National Plan of Action on the Prevention and Response to Violence against Children 2013-2016, and the National Costed Plan of Action for Most Vulnerable Children 2013-2017. The National Strategy on Elimination of Child Labour 2018-2022 is currently under implementation,” adds Phanuel.

He also clarifies that, “regulations and guidelines have been put in place to operationalise these laws. Of particular mention, these laws and the regulations made thereunder provide for lawful environments under which children may be employed and protected from any form of child labour.”

According to Phanuel, the ILO Office for the United Republic of Tanzania is supporting its constituents – Government, employers’ and workers’ organisations – to implement various programmes to end child labour in the country. Such programmes include: implementation of plans and strategies for the prevention and elimination of child labour; collection and dissemination of data for proper planning and reporting; enhancing capacity of the constituents to prevent and respond to child labour; and strengthening capacity of labour inspectorates to enforce labour laws.

Apart from all of the crusades taken, basic education, social protection, public awareness, social mobilisation and advocacy – building on the foundation provided by comprehensive child labour legislation and a solid evidence base have been highly recommended as ideal approaches to grind a vice to a halt.